Mountains-to-Sea Trail Old Growth, Asheville, NC

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bbeduhn
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Mountains-to-Sea Trail Old Growth, Asheville, NC

Post by bbeduhn » Mon Oct 16, 2017 2:56 pm

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is a trail that I've measured extensively over the 70 miles of it that are near Asheville. I did a ring count on a black oak a few years ago and found it to be in the 180 range, where it was cut after falling across the trail. The cut was well up on the tree and the bark was almost white in color. I would estimate that this black oak was certainly over 220 years and very likely over 240 years, placing it alongside the oldest known black oak. I got back to the spot recently, and noticed that the trees were not huge but their bark characteristics indicated great age.

The site is not far from the Asheville city limits, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, at 2500-2700' elevation. It is a mountain top that had been clearcut on the southeast side. The old growth is on the western, northern and northeastern exposure. Diversity is greater on the western side and the very top. Species include chestnut oak, red hickory, sourwood, white oak, mockernut hickory, shortleaf pine, pitch pine, and mountain laurel. No tulips grow in the old growth except for some saplings growing out of a barren snag. The snag is smooth. It looks to be a chestnut snag but no other chestnuts are present. I could conclude it is tulip since young tulips are growing out of its base but I'm not certain that it is as no other tulips are growing in the old growth.
chestnut oak
chestnut oak
chestnut oak
chestnut oak
chestnut oaks
chestnut oaks
pitch pine
pitch pine
shortleaf
shortleaf
red hickory
red hickory
red hickory
red hickory
tree with tulips growing out of base
tree with tulips growing out of base
ancient white oak at top of mountain
ancient white oak at top of mountain
sourwood
sourwood
Tulips dominate in the previously cut southern exposure. The line of demarcation is painfully obvious, both in canopy species and in undergrowth. The trail passes through a small section of second growth and then back into old growth. The old growth continues along a dry ridge to the southwest of the mountain. To the north and northeast, the soil changes and chestnut oak, sourwood and mountain laurel thoroughly dominate. A few young white pines have made inroads here but virtually no other species are present.

Another spot about a mile and a half further north has the same species makeup and is also old growth. The chestnut oaks are quite large in this section, and are joined by a few red hickories as well as sourwood and mountain laurel.
chestnut oak
chestnut oak
chestnut oak
chestnut oak
chestnut oak
chestnut oak
red hickory
red hickory

The trail between the two old growth sites has perplexed me for some time. It is clearly disturbed but with many old and tall trees. Tulips, hickories, ash, and oaks all attain considerable age. I discovered how this occurred this past weekend. The trail follows an old road bed off and on. When this road was built, trees within about 100 feet were preserved. This road predates the Parkway by several decades. Parts of the roadbed were used for the trail and parts were obscured by the building of the Parkway.
red hickory
red hickory
red hickory
red hickory
When the trail got closer to the Parkway, the trees between appeared to be in the 70-80 year range while the trees opposite had old growth characteristics. This continued for nearly a mile until the old roadbed was completely consumed by the Parkway. Curiously, A few remnant trees still appeared along the trail. I don't have an explanation for this as these are biltmore ash and red hickory. Downslope from the Parkway and the trail, More recent cutting has occurred in some places. The trail rarely gets into this young forest because the Parkway has a 200' buffer. The trail spends most of its time within this buffer, so the forest is at least 82 years old.

I've measured along this section before and will return to it this winter to get some updated measurements.

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ElijahW
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Re: Mountains-to-Sea Trail Old Growth, Asheville, NC

Post by ElijahW » Tue Oct 17, 2017 6:05 pm

Brian,

Cool photos. I haven't seen Red Hickory bark peel to that extreme before. That's some gnarly-looking stuff, especially the first Chestnut Oak. Nice job,

Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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